What is Anaerobic Threshold Training?
From a paper at Rice University:
The AT varies from person to person, and, within a given individual, sport to sport. Untrained individuals have a low AT (approximately 55 % of VO2 max), and elite endurance athletes, a high AT (approx. 80 – 90% of VO2 max). You can train your body to remove lactate better and to juice up the aerobic mitochondrial enzymes, thus raising the AT.
There is some controversy involved, and in fact some scientists believe that there is no actual biological effect in anaerobic threshold training. Despite that elite athletes continue to train rigorously to increase their heart rate and the amount of time they can tolerate being on the edge of failure. This is also called Lactate Threshold, or the exertion level at which your body switches between the aerobic and anaerobic energy production systems. As a generality the aerobic system is good for hours and hours of effort. The anaerobic system is only good for a short period of time, possibly only minutes, depending on the biology and genetics of the athlete.
There are some tests to determine your heart rate at your Lactate Threshold, but I haven’t had one. I plan to this spring season so I’ll update this and more when I get there. From other common calculations my standard Max Heart Rate is 166 (220 – 54). I’m going to use 166 BPM as my estimated Lactate Threshold then. This is greatly flawed by the way. Don’t do this. I know for a fact I can spend a few minutes at 180+ BPM. I can spend about 30 minutes at 170+ BPM. I eagerly await that test. For your own purposes get the test. Some college sports clinics offer them for less than $150. If you’re a student even less. If you want to proceed anyway and hope for the best, be dang sure you have an awesome aerobic base first.
A session of Anaerobic Threshold Training:
My goal for this session is to spend about 30 minutes on a treadmill keeping my heart rate hovering around 146 to 149 BPM. That’s about 90% of my calculated MAX Heart Rate and 90% of my Estimated Lactate Threshold. Keep in mind that either number you go with is fairly severe for the average athlete. Not that I’m being all superior or anything, but I don’t want to get any messages or comments about strokes and heart attacks. If you can’t do a half hour at 75% or 85% you sure don’t want to try to go at 90% for any length of time.
I’m going to use a treadmill because it’s really easy to adjust the pace as needed to ride that fine line of Lactate Threshold. I used the Suunto Ambit2 S HR Watch which I received from an Instagram contest entry last Spring. I’ve grown to like it and have been using it in preference to my Polar RS800 I used to use. The Suunto has adequate Recovery Time estimates that help me plan my workout schedule.
I got on and spent about 20 minutes warming up gently at first and then increasing the speed until I got into the upper 140 BPM range. With the watch set on the handle right in front of my face it was easy to keep an eye on it without having to lift my wrist every few seconds. As you can see in the screenshot below I was able to keep my HR in that Zone pretty well level. I wanted to hit 5 miles in 60 minutes as a side goal. I recommend that if you’ve never done this before don’t set a mileage goal. You might be disappointed. Running at 10,000′ of elevation while holding your Heart Rate at 148 BPM is tough enough without adding in all kinds of other distractions like speed and distance goals.
You might not have any issue with elevation, but even so, you’re probably used to drifting in and out of different Heart Rate Zones during a workout and being locked into one might give you fits. After you’ve done this a bit then you can start to set mileage and speed based goals. And that is actually one of the primary reasons for Anaerobic Threshold Training. If you cross fully into the Anaerobic Training Zone you will have only so many minutes left at that speed and you’re done. This is what gets a Tour de France rider into that final sprint. You ration your sprinting and use it in bursts saving for the big one. In fact I found a lot more articles about Anaerobic Threshold Training for riders than for runners. They love that power meter.
So our goal in this training is to ride that 90% line for as long as you can. Ultimately you work your way up to riding that line for the duration of your event. You try to keep your Heart Rate below your Anaerobic Zone until the end and then you cut loose with energy in reserve to maximize your sprint. It’s quite common for someone in a race to spend their Anaerobic Reserves at the starting line and burn out way to early.
My current training goal is Elbrus Race 2014 so I am working up to 3 hours. During that time I will slowly increase in speed and efficiency, as would you if you choose to train this way. In past years I trained somewhat haphazardly going for max speed and max distance and max elevation gained training. I burned out rather quickly since I spent too long in that Anaerobic Zone and it was unstructured. Last year, for Elbrus Race 2013 I changed my training drastically and stayed at a much lower Heart Rate during training and I did finish the race. My protege Todd Gilles came in 3rd place, which was quite satisfying.
It has taken me a few weeks to work this out and get to the point where I could sustain that level of effort for that period of time and work out the technique of adjusting the treadmill to accommodate my Heart Rate Zone target on the fly. Supposedly there are some treadmills that will do this automagically, but electronics being what they are, and treadmill manufacturers not taking things as seriously as we do I can’t imagine great success with that. I suppose a drift of 10 BPM over the course of 5 minutes would be quite acceptable to them. We want nearly instantaneous response to our Heart Rate. This is best done by hand.
Give it a shot if you dare. If you are ready to ride that 90% line and make it work. Please be careful though, okay?
I just published a new article for my elite athletes training for Elbrus Race 2014 using Anaerobic Threshold Training as the base of this training cycle: [CLICK HERE]
Slower cardio base training is a key element of my Couch to Colorado 14er Program. Build that cardio base and test it on a 4000 meter mountain. [CLICK HERE]
If you want any help in your own training, check out my Consulting Programs. I’m available to get you where you want to be. [CLICK HERE]
Update: In discussing this with my Facebook Page it became obvious that I need to add in a disclaimer. This is a very technical specific way of training. If you do not already know that you should be training this way, and understand why, it’s probably not a good idea to just sporadically do it without a good reason.